Breaking Nets, Sinking Boats and Saving Men
Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
I have chosen this text as part of a short series of transition messages as we expand from one corporate worship site to two. My desire is to put this expansion in a Biblical context and to give it meaning as an expression of the aims of Jesus Christ. Today I want to see our expansion to Roseville as an expression of Christ’s aim that we be more fruitful in evangelism – or as some would say, that we be soul-winners, or as the biblical expression has it, "fishers of men," or as others would say, that we "make disciples."
There are some of us that believe that Bethlehem is on the brink of continued extraordinary growth. Of course, the sovereign Lord could blow that away in a minute. He owes us nothing. And we are not deserving of any blessing we have. But given what he seems to be doing now and in the past couple years, there is good reason to think that his wind of his mercy is at our back. And so we should work while it is day. Night comes when no man can work.
My burden today to preach and to pray in such a way that what happens at the North Extension site and downtown is a new fruitfulness in evangelism – more people passing from death to life, and from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, and from unbelief to belief, through the Christ-empowered witness and love of the members of this church. Churches can grow without this. But growth without these things is not the best kind of growth. We need to be much more aggressive in loving witness that wins people to Christ and folds them into a fellowship of believers and grows them into mature disciples of Jesus who love to spread a passion for God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples.
That is one thing that should mark Bethlehem on its two sites. So let’s watch Jesus and listen to Jesus in Luke 5:1-11.
The Point of This Text
I think Jesus, in the way he acted and spoke in this situation, and Luke, in the way he tells the story, are both intentionally turning a miracle catch of fish into a parable about catching people for the kingdom. In other words, Jesus was not merely teaching the word of God as he sat in the boat (vv. 1, 3); he was showing something, by his actions and words, about how he means for his followers to win men to faith.
Here is the point that I think Jesus and Luke are making in this whole story. I’ll say it and then back up and try to show it from the text.
By Jesus’ power and authority
multitudes of people
will be caught for eternal kingdom blessings
by the followers of Jesus who
teach the word of God,
obey the commands of Jesus,
humble themselves, and
treasure Christ above all.
Let’s break this down into several pieces and see where they come from in the text. First, Jesus is saying that great multitudes of people are going to be won by his power and authority. Jesus had intentionally chosen to teach from a fishing boat (verse 3). So the boat is transformed, so to speak, into an instrument of evangelism. That sets up the parable. The boat is a place where the word of God is proclaimed to the crowds and where fish are caught. Then in verse 4 Jesus tells Simon to push this gospel-bearing boat into the deep water for a catch. "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch. Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’" This interchange between Jesus and Simon emphasizes the power and authority of Jesus that is about to be displayed. You say it. I’ll do it. But what’s the use. We know fishing. You’re a carpenter.
Verse 6: "When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish (plh/qoj ivcqu,wn polu,), and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink."
So the catch is so amazing that the nets are breaking and the boats are sinking. In other words, the point is: this is an utterly unprecedented catch of fish in a location that seemed hopelessly unproductive the night before. And it was caught at the powerful and authoritative word of Jesus.
The word used to describe the amount of fish is literally "multitude" (plh/qoj). It’s used over a dozen times in the book of Acts for a multitude of people. Jesus will give it that interpretation in verse 10: "And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’" The multitude of fish caught by Jesus’ power and authority is a pointer to what would happen later in the book of Acts and beyond. Acts 5:14, "And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes (plh,qh) of both men and women." Acts 14:1, "In Iconium . . . a large number (polu. plh/qoj) of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks."
And the catching here, of course, is not to kill and eat, but to save and feed. The comparison isn’t between what happens to fish and what happens to people. The comparison is between trusting Christ to help you gather fish and trusting Christ to help you gather people. The gathering of people is for rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and joy (John 15:11) and eternal life (John 3:36).
So I repeat the first part of my summary of this text: "By Jesus’ power and authority multitudes of people will be caught for eternal kingdom blessings – for salvation . . .
. . . by followers of Jesus." We see this point clearly in verse 10: "And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’" Just as it was James and John (v. 10) and Peter, the human fishermen, who brought in the fish, so it will be human fishers of men who bring in the people. It is by Jesus’ power and authority that they come, but they come through the evangelistic work of man. Converts to Christ come by Christ’s power, but by man’s agency. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me," Jesus said, "so go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-19). Christ is the decisive power and authority in winning people, but followers of Christ are the instruments of that power.
Now, what does this acted-out parable tell us about the kind of people who go man-fishing and win others to Christ, so that we can pray and strive to be that kind of people?
I see four things in the text to answer that question: "By Jesus’ power and authority multitudes of people will be caught for eternal kingdom blessings by the followers of Jesus, who . . .
. . . teach the word of God."
I take this from verses 1 and 3. Verse 1: "Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret." So Luke makes explicitly clear what Jesus had brought to this moment for man-fishing. He had brought the word of God. If we dare risk the analogy: this was his bait for man-fishing. This is what was drawing the crowd of man-fishes. They were swarming to hear the word of God.
This in fact is a very fish-honoring, as well as God-honoring bait. The word of God is the greatest word there is. The word of God is not some little jingle to manipulate customers to buy your product. The word of God is truth that aims to claim a person’s rational mind and win a person’s authentic affections. So we may be unashamed when we man-fish with the word of God. It is truth, not technique.
Then Jesus prepares for the parable by deciding to teach the word of God from a fishing boat. Verses 2-3: "He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat." Just as Jesus is gathering a people with the word of God from a fishing boat, so Peter and the followers of Jesus will gather people like man-fishers with the word of God.
I think it’s significant to see that he "taught" the people. Verse 3: "He sat down and began teaching." At times he proclaims, at other times he teaches. Both are important in the life of the church today. But I want to suggest that in our evangelism – our man-fishing with the bait of the word of God – should involve a lot of teaching, a lot of explaining.
We live in a society that does not know the true nature of God and the gospel. They don’t know the God-centered nature of what sin is, and what God’s glory and law are, and who Christ is and what happened on the cross and what faith is and what love is and what heaven and hell are. Therefore, to win these people we need to develop structures of teaching. And I don’t mean only formal teaching. And I don’t mean stop sharing the short testimonies and snapshots of Jesus. But let’s add ways of offering unbelievers more and more of Christ so that they can make a credible response to a whole message. Let’s dream and plan and be aggressive in our love for lost people by coming up with ways that we can keep telling them and showing them more and more truth. Jesus was teaching in the boat to illustrate man-fishing.
This seems to be the way Paul did it sometimes. In Acts 19:9-10 Luke said that Paul "reasoned daily in the hall of Tyrannus [that is, he taught]. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." What a great church planting strategy: teach unbelievers daily in a public hall about the Christian worldview for two years!
That’s the first mark of the disciples who do man-fishing. They teach the word of God. The second is that they . . .
. . . obey the commands of Jesus.
When Jesus told Simon in verse 4 to push out into the deep, "Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets’" (v. 5). If Simon had not obeyed, there would probably have been no catch. Jesus could make the fish jump into the boat. But he doesn’t usually act that way. He calls us to be his instruments in man-fishing. And he gives us Peter as an example. Not a perfect one. But a good one.
Peter is not brimming with faith. "Master, we worked all night. We know fishing. You don’t. This place is fished out. Besides, we are exhausted. We were up all night." Oh, how many are the excuses we find for not man-fishing. But isn’t it encouraging that the Lord does not pitch Peter overboard, but accepts his half-hearted obedience and does the miracle anyway. I have heard dozens of testimonies to this effect. I was tired. It didn’t seem like a very good time to speak of Christ . . . but I did it, and the great, never-weary Christ acted. One of the brothers at the Friday morning prayer meeting told us of a remarkable circumstance in which he led someone to Christ this week. The time is never perfect. And our hearts are never perfect. But Christ honors simple efforts to obey him.
That’s the second mark of a man-fisher. He obeys Jesus. Here’s the third: Those who do man-fishing . . .
. . . humble themselves.
When Peter and the others saw the blessing Jesus had given them – the way he had used them to gather the fish in spite of their half-hearted obedience – verse 8b says, "Simon Peter . . . fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Oh, how we need to see this and experience it.
It’s the opposite of saying: "Wow, look at the way we get blessed when we follow Jesus! Biggest catch of fish we’ve ever had. We could market this! Let’s get a movement going. Call it, ‘Trust Jesus, get fish!’ Hey, hey! Let’s go to Roseville!’ No, Peter looked at grace – pure grace – and felt utterly unworthy and said so. That is a good place to start in evangelism. Cocky witnesses contradict the message of grace. So let’s waken to the fact that what is moving to Roseville is a band of half-hearted, imperfectly obedient justified sinners who feel utterly unworthy of every blessing we have, especially salvation. Then we may be ready to fish.
Oh, that all Bethlehem attenders would read Jonathan Edwards’ book, The Religious Affections, especially the chapter on "Evangelical Humiliation," where he says,
A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior. (Religious Affections, Yale, 1959, pp. 339f.)
Now we have seen three marks of faithful man-fishers: they teach the word of God, they obey Jesus’ commandments, they humble themselves. Now, finally, fruitful man-fishers . . .
. . . treasure Christ above all.
In verse 10b "Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’" Because he knows that he will one day die for Peter’s sin (Mark 10:45), Jesus takes the paralyzing fear out of his humility and leaves in its place a lionhearted meekness and bold brokenness. Peter and James and John respond with hearts overflowing with the value of knowing Jesus: "When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him." This is what it means to follow Jesus: he is more valuable to us than everything (see Luke 14:33). I count everything as loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).
So here is my prayer as half of us get ready to leave familiar and comfortable surroundings and go north to worship – not a very great sacrifice: May the power and authority of Jesus Christ move multitudes of people into eternal kingdom blessings by means of his disciples at Bethlehem who teach the word of God, obey the commands of Jesus, humble ourselves, and treasure Christ above all.